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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Sharon rules out timetable for peace
Israeli tank outside Jenin after raids last week
Israeli forces are continuing operations against militants
Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has rejected the idea of any rigid timetable for peace talks with the Palestinians, again insisting that violence must end before any dialogue can resume.

His comments follow US President George W Bush's statement that he would not set a schedule for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Remains of Israeli bus blown up at Megiddo
Islamic Jihad said it carried out last week's bus bombing in Israel
Hours after Mr Sharon arrived in Washington on Sunday, Palestinian security forces arrested a leader of the radical Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing last week in which 17 Israelis died.

Abdullah Shami's arrest in the Gaza Strip coincided with a shake-up by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian security forces.

It came on a weekend of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which claimed 11 lives, mostly as a result of Palestinians attacking Israeli settlements.

And in the early hours of Monday at least 30 Palestinians were injured in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, in a blast apparently caused by a landmine which exploded in a house.

Seeking a reliable partner

Mr Sharon, writing in the New York Times on the eve of talks with Mr Bush, also said that if lasting peace was to be achieved with the Palestinians, other Arab states needed to be involved.

He said that when Israel and the Palestinians eventually re-engaged in negotiations, diplomacy "must be based on realism".

"Movement from a long-term interim agreement to a permanent settlement can only be guided by changes in the reality of Israeli-Palestinian relations on the ground and not by a rigid timetable."

He also said Israel had made painful concessions for peace before, and would demonstrate diplomatic flexibility again but required a "reliable partner for peace".

Yasser Arafat
Arafat - "not reliable" says Sharon
President Bush said on Saturday he was not ready to commit to a specific timetable for creating a Palestinian state - despite entreaties from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to so do.

Mr Bush stressed however that "we have to get started quickly, soon, so we can seize the moment".

After his talks with President Mubarak, Mr Bush expressed exasperation with Mr Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader must do more to prevent attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants.

But Mr Mubarak insisted: "We should give this man a chance."

He added that Israel had to end its "siege" of the Palestinian people, as well as halting assassinations, incursions into territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority and the building of Jewish settlements.

Mr Bush will welcome Mr Sharon to the White House on Monday, when the US president is expected to outline his own peace proposals.

Settlements attacked

The pace of attacks on settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has increased in the past two weeks.

On Saturday night, four Israelis were injured in an attack on the Jewish West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus.

Enlarge image Click here to enlarge map

Two Palestinian gunmen who attacked the settlement were killed by Israeli soldiers, the military said.

Hours earlier, Palestinian gunmen carried out a nearly identical attack on the settlement of Karmei Tsur, near Hebron, killing a pregnant woman and her husband as they slept in their trailer.

Another man later died of his injuries, while armed settlers shot dead one of the gunmen as the other escaped. An Israeli military spokesman blamed the Palestinian Authority for the attack at Karmei Tsur, accusing it of "doing nothing to prevent such terrorist acts".

Five other Palestinian militants died in other attacks and attempted strikes on Israelis.

In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said it shot dead two Palestinians attempting to infiltrate the Jewish coastal settlement, while three others died when a bomb they were trying to plant exploded near an electric fence on the border with Israel.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"The Palestinians are trying to show the world that they are changing"

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